As an avid fan of Guillermo de Toro’s ‘Hellboy’ films of the mid to late 2000s, to say I approached this new reboot with apprehension is to put it lightly. Initially intended as a third instalment to the series, the project became a reboot after del Toro was not allowed to keep his directing role, and its star, Ron Perlman, refused to continue in the role without del Toro. Nevertheless, I tried to stay positive; new leading man David Harbour showed he could bring the charm thanks to his role in TV’s ‘Stranger Things’, the trailers didn’t look awful, and the film's hard R-rating in Australia at least hinted that there would be some gore for audiences to sink their teeth into. I can emphatically say that however the third del Toro film might have turned out would have been heads and shoulders above the reboot we get instead.
This new film (sort of) omits the comic book origin story route in favour of dumping the audience straight into the action, trying to forge its own path. However, this does not last long, and before the audience knows it we're back at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, back with Hellboy’s dysfunctional relationship with adopted father Trevor (Ian McShane, doing nothing here that he hasn’t already done in TV’s ‘American Gods’), back watching the protagonist battle a powerful witch (Milla Jovovich, the ‘Resident Evil’ franchise) who wants to see the end of humankind for some convoluted reason. You’ve seen this all before and it's been done much better, trust me.
It is apparent from the films marketing material that ‘Hellboy’s' super-violent edge was its main selling point; a common complaint of del Toro’s films was their sanitised violence geared towards bringing in bigger audiences. The violence is here in spades - blood flows as freely as the alcohol through Hellboy’s veins. People and otherworldly creatures alike are treated like rag dolls, limbs and heads detaching from bodies as if they’re Christmas crackers made from jelly. It also helps that director Neil Marshall (the ‘Descent’ series) has a background in horror, being in tune with how to make the incredible violence at hand as horrific as possible. However, the light-hearted tone the film wants to take is muted completely by the multitudes of serious violence. From the tone of the trailers - and hell, the film itself - it’s shocking to see a film so devoid of any bloodthirsty glee. The tone of the film and its violence are so mismatched, and it is incredibly disappointing to see a film fail so spectacularly at the one thing it obviously prides itself on.
What shocks me is just how joyless the entire project feels. It wants to be a fun romp for young adults but the jokes are half baked, the music choices feel uninspired, the supporting cast feels wooden. There is the feeling that the entire cast and crew are unwilling employees covering a shift. There is no passion, except maybe from the visual effects team who try their best, but with the film's obviously smaller budget (no such figure could be found at the time of writing, possibly to protect the studio’s losses when this bombs at the box office) ends up producing creatures and backdrops one would expect from a video game cutscene.
It wants to be a fun romp for young adults but the jokes are half baked, the music choices feel uninspired, the supporting cast feels wooden.
The film’s saving grace is its final five minutes, and its mid-credit scene; one is a gleeful, pretty well shot and actually funny fight scene, the other a small skit justifying Thomas Haden Church’s fleeting but criminally underutilised presence in the film. Unfortunately, by this point it's too little, too late. The choice to also tease the audience with the return of a fan favourite character in an obviously planned sequel (that, if this film performs as deserved, will never happen) feels criminal. Both scenes taunt the audience with the existence of a better film, the film that this new ‘Hellboy’ should have been for its entire run time.
While in no way perfect films, the reason myself and others keep going back to del Toro’s ‘Hellboy’ series is there is a level of sweetness to be found beneath their cheese. This new ‘Hellboy’ adds literally nothing new to the character’s cinematic canon. The film’s existence feels barely justified beyond trying to make money and provide audiences with something - anything - to put a Band-Aid over the news that del Toro’s 'Hellboy III' was never going to happen. The character should have just been sent back to hell instead.